A Guide to Choosing a 55 and Over Community

A Guide to Choosing a 55 and Over Community

You might think you're too young to move to a retirement community, but many active older adults still in the workforce are buying a home in a 55 and over community, settling in, and planning to enter retirement later among other active people in a community that caters to their lifestyle.

A 55 and over community, which restricts residency to ages 55 and above, is designed for adults who wish to live around other people nearing retirement age. 55+ communities come in every size, from simple apartment buildings with few amenities to resort-style communities with recreational activities and entertainment.

One person's dream community may not be the right fit for someone else, but by following this guide on the different types of 55 and over communities, you can determine whether a 55+ community is right for you and learn how to set yourself up for a successful transition into one.

How Does a 55+ Community Differ From Senior Living?

Both 55+ and senior living communities are sometimes called retirement communities, but the two are distinct. Senior living communities may include independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care for residents, along with prepared meals, 24/7 staff and some health care services. 55+ communities, on the other hand, are set up as active adult communities, and most don't offer health care services, meal plans or staff that's on call day and night.

What's Life Like at a 55+ Community?

55+ communities are typically active but quiet, as there are no college students or teenage children playing on neighbors' front lawns. Because there are numerous different types of active adult communities, it can be easy to find one that meets your needs and suits your lifestyle. For instance, if you like playing sports, there are active communities that have golf courses and tennis courts. Plenty of 55+ communities also have scenic walking trails and swimming pools, if you prefer a more low-key active lifestyle.

Even if you don't want or need many amenities, the simple appeal of quiet neighbors and the opportunity to socialize with people around your own age may sound inviting. Some people prefer to join a 55+ community where people have something in common with them right away, such as an LGBTQ+ community. Others love the atmosphere of a themed community, such as Jimmy Buffet's Latitude Margaritaville in Daytona Beach, Florida, which has bars, a restaurant, stage shows and even a "Barkaritaville" dog park and pet spa.

How Much Does a 55+ Community Cost?

When it comes to 55+ communities, the more amenities that are included, the higher the cost tends to be. So, if you're looking for a resort-style 55+ community, expect to pay more for a single-family home or condo. A 55+ community in an apartment building may cost less, but fewer amenities might be included, and those that are could be expensive. To get an idea of the cost of residence at a 55+ community you have in mind, search for 55+ real estate listings on sites such as 55Places.com.

Home, condo and rental prices vary considerably depending on location. For example, single-level homes at one 55+ community in Phoenix, Arizona, range in price from $200,000 to $400,000, with amenities such as a fitness center, tennis and pickleball courts, and events and activities in the community recreation center. At another 55+ community nearby, there are spacious two-story homes, a tennis court, pickleball courts, and walking and biking trails through parks and other nature settings. The price of residence at this community ranges from $400,000 to $550,000.

The region where a community is located can also play a role in the cost of living there. For example, a home in a 55+ community in California will be significantly more expensive than a 55+ community with the same amenities in the Midwest. You may want to consider moving to a more tax-friendly state to counteract some of the expense of moving to an active living community. Be sure to factor in any homeowner's association (HOA) fees or other annual membership expenses that may be included as well.

What to Look For in a 55+ Community

In addition to what amenities are available, you'll want to consider several other aspects of living in a 55+ community, including:

  • How close is the nearest airport?
  • Are there plentiful dining and shopping options nearby?
  • How walkable is the area inside and outside the 55+ community?
  • What's the neighborhood crime rate?
  • How convenient are grocery stores, banks, the post office and other places you might frequent?
  • If you have pets, are they allowed? Is there an extra fee? Also, are there dog parks or other areas nearby for dog walking?
  • How noisy are the surrounding areas? Is there highway traffic or some other source of substantial noise nearby?
  • Who can live with you? Does your spouse also have to be 55 or over? Can your grandchildren occasionally stay with you, or is it a strict kid-free zone?

Make sure you compile a comprehensive list of any questions you may have about your chosen community, and get answers from management before you close the deal.

Tips for Choosing a 55+ Community

Purchasing a home in a 55+ community is a big step, and it can be expensive. Make sure you inspect your chosen community thoroughly before you purchase a condo or house. Don't base your decision on a quick tour of the grounds alone. Instead, aim to get a feel for what it's actually like to live in the 55+ community by doing the following.

  • Chat up other residents about their experience with the community. They'll happily tell you about all the pros and cons management might have left out of their description.
  • When you're shopping for homes, look ahead to aging in place. Opt for a home with universal design elements, such as a no-step entry, a single-story, wide doorways and hallways, and other barrier-free features.
  • Ask if there is a model home where you can stay overnight to experience the community as a resident before you join.
  • If you plan to relocate to a new region, visit your chosen community off-season to get an idea of the climate there when it's less than ideal.
  • Keep a list of pros and cons for each property you visit, and come back to your favorites several times before making a decision.

Moving to a 55+ community can free up more time to enjoy your life and family while you're creating your dream retirement lifestyle, as time-consuming homeownership tasks such as landscaping and maintenance would be off your plate. And who knows — you may even meet your new best friend on the golf course or pickleball court!

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